Is Missouri sports betting on track to be voted upon this year?
It’s not a given by any means, but the possibility remains as close as ever, thanks to recent pushes.
A bill would need to pass early this year for a 2024 launch to be in the cards. Historically, Missouri’s decision-makers have not found common ground on the subject.
Here’s a closer look at what led to this point and the current Missouri sports betting proposals.
Missouri Pro Sports Coalition remains a driving force
Last September, the Missouri Pro Sports Coalition filed 16 proposals to the Secretary of State. The goal was simple: to amend the existing constitution to legalize sportsbooks within the state.
As the coalition’s name suggests, all Missouri’s professional sports teams are involved. The teams include:
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Kansas City Royals
- Kansas City Current
- St. Louis Cardinals
- St. Louis Blues
- St. Louis SC
Each proposal was slightly different, mostly regarding the number of licenses available for online sports betting operators. But each one would legalize both online and retail sports wagering with revenue taxed at 10%.
Coalition gets ballot initiative approved
The coalition submitted a ballot initiative to legalize sports betting last summer. Missouri Secretary of State John Ashcroft approved the proposal’s language in December.
The initiative would allow Missouri voters to decide whether sports betting is legal. St. Louis Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III, a prominent coalition member, said that given the issue’s gridlock in the legislature, this is the best course of action for legalization.
“As we are not optimistic that this pattern will change during the upcoming legislative sessions, we are currently proceeding with an initiative petition campaign to put the issue of legalized sports wagering on the ballot for Missouri overs in 2024,” DeWitt said.
Missouri Sports Betting Coalition’s proposal must garner at least 170,000 signatures from Missouri residents by May. If the group succeeds, sports betting will be on the ballot come November.
The proposal would legalize retail and online sports betting while taxing revenue at 10%.
Three sports betting bills appear this month
Earlier this month, two sports betting bills popped up in the upper chamber of the Missouri General Assembly. The two bills are similar but have a few key differences.
Republican Sen. Tony Leutkemeyer introduced SB 852 earlier this month. The bill highlights the structure for online sports betting and in-person wagering within Missouri borders.
Under this bill, the state’s six professional sports teams can partner with one online sportsbook. It also allows Missouri’s casinos to work with up to three different online sports betting operators.
SB 852 would only permit those age 21 and older to wager on sports – something that’s common for most, but not all states. Betting on high school sporting events would remain illegal under this bill.
The legislation bans betting on in-state collegiate athletics. Any schools outside Missouri are fair game, but collegiate prop bets are off-limits, regardless of the teams’ affiliations to the Show Me State.
It’s important to note the tax structure under Leutkemeyer’s bill. Gross gaming revenue would see a 12% tax. Those tax dollars would then go straight to Missouri’s education fund – another key selling point when legalizing sports wagering.
Additionally, promotional credits could be tax deductible throughout the first few years. That’s an important wrinkle, as operators getting promotional credit deductions has recently been a hot topic nationwide.
SB 852 also creates the need for research. Under this bill, a study would be conducted every five years to see the effects of gambling on the state.
Filed by Republican Sen. Denny Hoskins, SB 824 has a similar goal to legalize sports betting.
One of the differences, though, is when it comes to taxes. SB 824 would tax gross gaming revenue at 10%. That’s 2% less than SB 852. The bill would also allow riverboat casinos to pair with two mobile sports betting operators, not three.
However, the biggest difference is that SB 824’s main focus is to legalize video lottery terminals within the state. Hoskins believes this measure would curb any black market around VLTs.
The legalization of VLTs has been a major talking point for Hoskins. It’s currently a gray area in Missouri. His bill would provide clarity to the issue.
For instance, in April 2023, Hoskins completed an eight-hour filibuster to block a sports betting bill that would not have legalized VLTs.
“I’ll be an obstructionist until I get my way,” Hoskins said at the time.
In other words, if Hoskins has his way this time around, sports betting will only be legalized if VLTs are.
SB 852, meanwhile, would not legalize VLTs.
“I don’t think anything is different this year one way or another,” Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden told NPR. “I don’t know that it makes a tremendous difference in this chamber. Both sides are pretty entrenched.”
The House bill filed by Republican Rep. Dan Houx would legalize retail and online sports betting while taxing operators at 10%. HB 2331 also creates a “Compulsive Gamblers Fund” within the Department of Mental Health.
Tax revenue from sports betting would go directly to the new fund.
This is the third time in the last three years that Houx has filed sports betting legislation. In his previous two tries, the bill easily passed through the House but hit roadblocks in the upper chamber.
Hoskins was one of the loudest opponents to Houx’s bill because it did not address VLTs. Given Hoskins’ stand on VLTs hasn’t changed, and he’s still in the Senate, Houx’s bill probably has a similar fate this year.
Where sports betting currently stands in Missouri
The big question is how many residents support legalizing sports betting. The industry as a whole has skyrocketed nationally over the last few years.
But historically, Missourians haven’t been on board with the subject.
In 2022, a sports betting ballot initiative didn’t secure the signatures needed to get in front of voters. Last February, a St. Louis University poll discovered that just 35% of residents believe sports betting should be legal in Missouri. 41% of survey participants said it should be illegal, and the remaining 24% indicated they were unsure about the matter.
Several states surrounding Missouri currently offer some form of legal sports betting. Those states include Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska. The only state bordering Missouri that does not offer sports betting is Oklahoma.